Cigarette card (1875 – early 2000s)

Cigarette cards were a particular form of trade card, initially popularised by tobacco companies as a way of selling their products, and after World War II were also used by some other manufacturers such as tea companies.

Card was used as a stiffener in paper packs of cigarettes, and beginning in 1875 in the US, these cards began to carry images, for example of actresses, sportsmen or Native American chiefs. In 1878 they also began to include information about the image on the back of the card.

In 1887, W.D. & H.O. Wills began to issue cigarette cards in the UK.

The range of images expanded over time and began to be issued in colour, and the cards became popular as a way of viewing and collecting exotic images from around the world. They also began to be issued in sets, and around 1900 albums began to be produced to enable people to collect and store the cards together.

In 1939, cigarette card production virtually ceased in the UK as paper was in short supply during the war. After the war, ‘cigarette’ cards were issued by tea companies such as Brooke Bond in the UK, who issued cards until 1999. There have been some cigarette cards issued since, such as by the US tobacco company R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company who issued several series through a couple of its brand in the early 2000s.

Not all types of cigarette cards are the same size, but the standard size was around 67 x 36mm.

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Cabinet card (1863 – early 1920s)

A cabinet card consists of an albumen print (although later cards used matte collodion, gelatin or gelatin bromide paper) mounted on a standard sized card backing of 4¼  by 6½ inches. Like the earlier carte de visite, the card displayed details of the the photographic studio that took the photograph, either below the below the photograph, on the back of the card, or both.

They were introduced in 1863 by a British photographic studio, Windsor & Bridge, and became widely used for portrait photography (initially, they were intended for landscape photography), superseding the smaller carte de visite. Cabinet cards were placed in albums like the carte de visite, although it was a few years before albums specifically for the larger size of cabinet cards became available, or could be placed on stands or in frames for display (often in parlour cabinets, hence the name). They reached a peak in their popularity in the 1880s.

The introduction of the simple and inexpensive Brownie camera by Kodak in 1900, meant home photography became much more affordable and the studio portrait less necessary, but cabinet cards continued to be produced as late as the early 1920s.

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Jacquard Loom card (1801 – 1990s)

The Jacquard Loom was a mechanical loom for cloth weaving, first demonstrated by Joseph Marie Jacquard in 1801. It used a chain of punched cards laced together to allow the loom to create complex patterns.

Any number of the cards could be chained together into a continuous sequence, with each card corresponding to one row of the design. Each position on the card corresponds to a ‘Bolus’ hook which can either be raised or stopped dependent on whether the hole is punched out of the position on the card or not. The hook raises or lowers the harness, which carries and guides the warp thread so that the weft will either lie above or below it.

Modern Jacquard looms are controlled by computers in place of the original punched cards, and can have thousands of hooks.

Charles Babbage was aware of Jacquard loom cards, and planned to use cards to store programs in his Analytical engine, first described in 1837. Later in the 19th Century, Herman Hollerith used the idea of storing information on cards to create the punched card tabulating machine which he used to input data for the 1890 US Census.

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Optical phonecard (1981 – 1996)

Optical phonecard (front)An optical phonecard is a form of stored-value card that can record the balance available, in this case by means of an optical strip read by an infra-red beam that is shone through the back of the card with the reflected beam allowing the reader to detect the remaining units. As the card is used, the strip is heated and erased unit by unit.

Optical phonecards were produced by Landis+Gyr and Sodeco from Switzerland, and were first introduced in Belgium in 1977. They were widely introduced in the UK in 1982 after a successful trial by British Telecom in 1981. In the UK, the BT Phonecard as it was known, was used across the public payphone network, and cards could be purchased from retailers such as John Menzies, and Post Offices. Phonecard payphones were five times less susceptible to vandalism than their coin-operated counterparts.

Mercury Communications Ltd had a competing public phonecard network for a time in the UK, but this used magnetic stripe card technology for its phonecards.

Thousands of different designs of phonecard were produced in the UK, and many cards became collectable. Phonecard collecters are known as fusilatelists.

The technology was secure, but was phased out by British Telecom in favour of chip cards in the UK in 1996, and the Landis+Gyr factory closed in 2006 by which time only a small number of countries were still using optical phonecards.

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Punched card (1890 – 1980s)

Punched cards (also known as IBM cards or Hollerith cards) were used to control automated machinery or for data processing and consisted of stiff card with holes in predefined positions to represent data or commands.

Prior to their first use for data processing in the 1890 US census using cards designed by Herman Hollerith, forms of punched cards were used to control Jacquard textile looms and mechanical organs.

The cards used in the 1890 US census had round holes, 12 rows and 24 columns. In 1928, IBM developed the 80 column card, using rectangular holes, and this doubled the data that could be stored on a card. The 80 column card became the dominant type, but other formats were available.

IBM and its competitors developed a variety of machines for creating, sorting, and tabulating punched cards and by the 1950s the punched card had become ubiquitous in industry and government. They were the primary medium for data entry, data storage, and processing even before the advent of the digital computer, and millions were created every day. They were a write-once medium, and groups or ‘decks’ of cards formed programs or collections of data. Users could create cards using a desk-sized keypunch with a typewriter-like keyboard. A typing error generally necessitated repunching an entire card.

During the 1960s however, magnetic tape began to replace punched cards as the primary means for data storage. Even so, punched cards were still commonly used for data entry and programming until the mid-1980s.

The first punched cards were blank, but subsequent cards usually had printing such that the row and column position of a hole could be identified, and cards could also carry other printed information such as logos. Some cards had one upper corner cut so that cards not oriented correctly, or cards with different corner cuts, could be easily identified.

A standard 80 column punched card contains 80 bytes, so 99,981 boxes of 2,000 cards would be required to contain the same amount of data as a single 16 GB microSD card.

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